Can you tell us about the project you are currently working on?
I work on a pilot project focused on the Roma people, more concretely on those who are homeless or beg on the streets to make a living. These people often commute from Romania and Bulgaria, but also from other European Union member states. Their situation is addressed differently in Sweden depending on the concrete municipality in which they live; and that is what the project focuses on: together with other colleagues from Malmö University we work on developing a larger research project that investigates the ideologies that inspire different local strategies to address this situation.
What have you discovered in this project which has impacted you the most?
I think what has impacted me the most is precisely the difference between local strategies that are used to address the issue and, more concretely, the interpretation that the concept of vulnerability is given. Some understand vulnerability as a need for help and access to basic human rights, while others consider that this vulnerability is something that we need to hide. So the latter is very effective in terms of rendering the situation invisible, but does little to solve the problem.
What impact can your research have in Human Rights?
I think this project is useful in the sense that it brings up the discussion about the situation of these people in relation to economic and social rights. These people are European Union citizens, so they can travel and reside in any European Union member state without a residence permit, as any other European Union citizen. However, because they are not Swedish citizens, they are often denied basic social protection on this ground. But we have to bear in mind that even though they are not Swedish citizens, they are in Sweden. So we have a clash of norms applying to their situation: the laws concerning Swedish nationality and those that warrant basic human rights standards. For the time these people are in Sweden, the latter should in principle provide for access to basic social protection.
What would you like to focus on in the future?
Actually I have just started working on a new project called INFORM, which is a comparative European Union project coordinated by the University of Middlesex in London, and working with partners in the UK, Italy, Malta, Cyprus, Estonia, and Sweden. The project focuses on the different stages that an asylum-seeker has to go through before acquiring the refugee status, more concretely on the stages from which legal aid is accessible. This part is very interesting because in practice it largely depends on the European Union member state concerned whether the legal aid is granted, at which stage of the asylum application process is it granted, and whether it is free.
Ioana Bunescu did a Bachelor Programme in Sociology in Bucharest, but later she moved to Hungary to do an interdisciplinary Master Programme in Nationalism Studies at Central European University in Budapest. This Master was not only about the history of the formation of the nation-states, but also about how nationalism is often used or misused to justify the inclusion or exclusion of certain members of society. Later she was granted a PhD in Sociology by the Polish Academy of Sciences in 2009, and as an outcome of her PhD thesis she published her first book Roma in Europe: The Politics of Collective Identity Formation (Ashgate 2014) about how collective identities are used to confer rights to people that otherwise would find it difficult to access and with a special focus on the Roma minorities in Europe. Overall, her interest is not only in nationalism, but also in minorities and human rights.